The United States convened 40 heads of state in a virtual climate summit this week, with the aim of eliciting pledges from attendees for sweeping reductions in carbon emissions.
The United States has promised a 50% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030, and others have announced their new goals, with the overall goal of moving the planet towards carbon neutrality by 2050, the minimum. needed to warn against catastrophic climate change.
But before they pat themselves on the back for a job well done, the leaders of those 40 nations, many of them advanced economies, may want to take a look at some of the countries that haven’t been on the guest list.
Several developing and less stable nations are going in the opposite direction, building fossil fuel-based energy infrastructures right now that will increase emissions for decades to come. Without their buy-in, the world of net zero by 2050 is an unattainable goal. And environmentalists and climate finance experts say wealthier nations need to do more to take the rest with them.
Shift the burden of emissions
A few days before the summit, on April 11, the presidents of Uganda and Tanzania, along with the heads of the French oil giant Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, signed an agreement to start construction of a multi-billion dollar pipeline project connecting the Uganda’s oil fields off the coast of Tanzania approximately 1,400 km (850 miles) away.
Once completed in 2025, the East African crude oil pipeline [EACOP] it will transform Uganda into the fifth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, increasing its CO2 emissions by 34 million tons per year, more than six times the country’s current production of 5.5 million tons.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called the project an “economic victory”, bringing thousands of jobs while financing Uganda’s transition to prosperity. The pipeline, he says, could do the same for neighboring South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, becoming the “core of bigger developments” if they choose to exploit and export their vast oil resources.
It is true that EACOP’s total emissions pale in comparison to the output of most of the countries participating in the Biden climate summit. But the project still underscores how vulnerable zero-zero global commitments are to competing demands for economic growth, says Landry Ninteretse, Kenya-based Africa regional director for climate advocacy group 350.org. “You can’t say ‘yes, we will reach this zero-net target by 2050, but at the same time we allow a couple of projects to move forward.'”
In addition to reduction commitments, he says he would like to see summit attendees start delivering real climate solutions for smaller or less wealthy nations. “This begins with a commitment to halt any new fossil fuel development project, be it coal, gas or oil, prioritizing investments that will aid the transition from fossil fuels.”
It is false, says Ninteretse, that countries like China or France are committed to reducing domestic emissions while allowing public or private companies to build fossil fuel projects overseas. A dozen coal-fired power plants are currently under construction in Africa and 20 more have been announced, according to the Global Coal Plant Tracker.
Such investments, says Ninteretse, “come from the same fossil fuel companies that are no longer authorized to operate in most of the northern context, so they are looking for new initiatives in the southern hemisphere, where perhaps the question of transparency, of accountability. , and environmental regulations are not as well enforced. They are just shifting the burden on a continent that is already suffering the most from the impact of climate change. “
How to grow while staying green
Right now, African countries together are responsible for less than 4% of global carbon emissions. But their population is expected to double by 2050, reaching 2.5 billion people. The need for jobs and energy to power them is paramount. However, development aid and private investment in green energy is significantly lower than in traditional fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas will account for up to two-thirds of the continent’s electricity production by 2030, according to a January report from the University of Oxford published in the journal. Nature Energy. While some African nations, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, have set ambitious “green growth” goals, other governments argue that the cost of renewable energy is simply too high for their developing economies.
The only way to flip Africa’s energy balance is if there are significant investments, says Mark Carney, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. “Obviously the goal here is to grow these quickly [African] economies alongside decarbonisation. This places a huge emphasis on the availability of funding. “
As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, wealthy nations agreed to allocate $ 100 billion annually in climate finance to help developing nations adapt to climate change and the transition to renewable energy sources. . But it is still underfunded – in 2018, the latest information available, countries had only committed a total of $ 78.9 billion – and does nothing to stop the dozens of fossil fuel projects already underway on the continent.
Another challenge for the international community will be convincing people in emerging countries that a green transition will benefit them. Ugandans themselves broadly support the East African pipeline, says Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate. “They see this oil as a blessing, something that will bring a lot of money and jobs to the country. They are not aware of the destruction that will happen to our country, to the planet “.
Better education is key, he says. The same is also true for taking into account the private sector. Total’s 72% ownership stake in the project runs counter to its stated commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, says Nakate. “My question is: How does Total reach net zero by leading the construction of the East African pipeline? Because building this pipeline means we won’t be able to limit the global temperature rise. Net zero doesn’t mean you allow more decades of environmental destruction. “
Total, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and the national oil companies of Uganda and Tanzania have yet to secure insurance and raise $ 2.5 billion in debt financing for the project to move forward. He hopes a global awareness campaign will cause investment banks to think twice before committing funds. “This fight is not something for activists only in Uganda,” he says. “If the African continent really wants to go to zero, it must opt for more sustainable development methods. Our future is not about fossil fuels, our future is about renewables. And that’s something our leaders and our companies need to understand. “
Developing countries will have the opportunity to address these issues in a few months, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November. Reducing carbon emissions will still be a hot topic, but zero-zero commitments alone will not be enough: with all 197 signatories of the Paris Agreement hoping to be in attendance, discussions will focus on a fairer approach. where countries with the lowest emissions can negotiate for more assistance to stay that way.